CITY HALL — A transportation and planning consultant who brought on the ire of residents by calling them NIMBYs in an online biography backed off of his two-year-old comments last week, saying that they accurately described a moment in Santa Monica’s history regarding development that is now past.
Despite the angry rumblings and calls for his dismissal, Jeffrey Tumlin, a principal at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc., says he will not remove the reference.
Tumlin, who has done work on the Bicycle Action Plan, the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element and other large planning projects in the city by the sea, described Santa Monica politics as having been dominated for decades by “NIMBYs [Not In My Back Yard] who used traffic fear as their primary tool for stopping development” in a three-page bio still available on his company’s website.
Those comments referenced a Santa Monica from 2005, where residents attempted to put the kibosh on any and all development because such bad options were being brought to the table and does not apply to the conversations around development happening today, Tumlin told the Daily Press.
“I think that, at the time, residents were absolutely right to be NIMBYs, and should carry that label with pride, as they did then,” Tumlin said.
He did admit that the term is often used in a negative context, and said that the downside to the NIMBY thought pattern was that it could not improve a city, only slow down the rate at which conditions get worse.
“The discussion has gotten more articulate, sophisticated and focused on shaping development than stopping development,” Tumlin said. “They’re just as involved as they’ve always been and just as upset about bad development as they’ve always been, but when they speak in the community, they’ve become more forceful and effective at articulating what they want as opposed to what they don’t want.”
The admission has done little to placate residents calling for Tumlin’s head, however.
“I find it hard to believe that there was ever a point in time where someone embraced the term NIMBY,” said Albin Gielicz, chair of the North of Montana Neighborhood Association.
NOMA was one of two groups, alongside the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, which began circulating letters asking for community support for Tumlin’s dismissal.
Tumlin’s reference to Santa Monica is the only one in which he directly references the residents of a town, Gielicz said. Entries on San Francisco, Seattle and Abu Dhabi strictly reference projects on which he worked.
“Why not rewrite it to talk about the city of Santa Monica and the nature of the projects rather than the people who live here?” Gielicz said.
Diana Gordon, co-chair of SMCLC, derided the retreat as “insulting and ridiculous.”
“If Mr. Tumlin sincerely has changed his mind about residents, he wouldn’t now be proposing ideas that will only benefit developers, such as taking away our parking and supporting more and greater density development,” she said. “The fact that he is proposing plans that would make developers more money (by allowing them to build less parking) and residents more miserable tells us that his original opinion of us is unchanged.”
Gordon is referencing a proposal Tumlin put to the Planning Commission in January that would significantly reduce the amount of parking required to be built by developers creating new housing.
Santa Monica’s parking problem stems less from a lack of supply and more from the fact that most people can’t get to spaces already built in the city, Tumlin said.
“What we find is there are places where it is difficult to find parking, but in most of those places there are hundreds of empty spaces that are gated off or reserved only for specific people, or hidden,” Tumlin said.
His plan focuses on making those spaces available rather than building more.
Many residents dislike the idea, and believe that the parking study on which Tumlin’s conclusions are based was fundamentally flawed. It was conducted in August, which some say is a dead time of the year for Santa Monica because of a dip in tourism and the absence of students from Santa Monica College.
It also only included major boulevards and streets within one block of those arterial roads, which misses a large number of students, employees and customers who park more than one block into residential neighborhoods, wrote Zina Josephs of Friends of Sunset Park, who first brought Tumlin’s bio to the public in February.
Santa Monica does not need high-priced consultants to gather opinions only to ignore what the community says, said Gregg Heacock, head of Mid-City Neighbors.
Instead, the city would be better served by funding its neighborhood groups better so that they could represent all of the people in their areas by default rather than only those who choose to pay dues and get involved.
That could make neighborhood groups planning Petri dishes that are truly inclusive of all points of view, not just the fringes that tend to make themselves heard, Heacock said.
“Let’s assume that we don’t need to hire an outside person with a skewed point of view, which is what we have at hand here,” Heacock said.
As for Tumlin, he plans to push forward with his work in Santa Monica, including the parking recommendations.
“I will continue to try to take what I hear and provide technical recommendations. If the community thinks that my recommendations are not sound, I serve at the pleasure of the City Council,” Tumlin said.